Tuesday 8 June 2010

Littlejohn offers 'unqualified apology' for false 'elf'n'safety' story

On Friday, Richard Littlejohn exposed the latest absolutely true elf'n'safety madness to hit Britain - a primary school had banned football just before the World Cup. He wrote:

Just in time for the start of the World Cup in South Africa, a primary school in Essex has banned playground football. You guessed - elf 'n' safety.

Marion Smith, headmistress of Thomas Willingale primary, in Debden, said she was worried about young children getting hit in the face by heavy leather footballs.

There have also been complaints about balls bouncing into the road and hitting cars.

One parent said: 'It's appalling. How are we meant to have a World Cup-winning team in the future if they won't let kids play football?'

Debden is only a few miles from the school where David Beckham learned his skills.

Talk about an own goal.

Today, he returns to the same story. Why? Because he got it completely wrong:

On Friday, I reported that parents of children at a primary school in Essex were angry that playground football had been banned during the World Cup.

I've since heard from Marion Smith, the head of Thomas Willingale Primary, in Debden, who tells me she has only ever suspended playground football for a week to punish bad behaviour.

She has asked parents to give children lightweight balls to prevent injury, but was devastated by claims that she had banned it completely.

Ofsted has commended the school for its outstanding commitment to all sports, including football.

My comments were based on emails from parents and a report in the local newspaper, but the responsibility is all mine. I owe Mrs Smith and her staff an unqualified apology.

So, for once, well done to Littlejohn for publishing this correction so swiftly, and for offering an 'unqualified apology'.

But isn't that penultimate sentence rather telling? He wrote his original rant based on emails and newspaper reports. He didn't bother to phone the school and do even the slightest bit of fact-checking.

It's not the first time - remember the police chief apology or the thing with the dogs - and because he never seems to do any actual research, it won't be the last.


  1. What makes it worse is that in the original story (which was in my local paper and made me mad at the time) it does actually say at the end that lightweight footballs were being encouraged and so clearly if Littlejohn had bothered to read the story to the end he would have known football hadn't been banned without needing to do any further "fact" checking.

    I have written a strong letter to the paper in question pointing out the irresponsibility of using the mouthing off of two irate parents to present a "ban" story which clearly isn't true, especially by dint of what they themselves report later in the same story.

    I also made the point that 30 years ago you couldn't play with footballs in my school playground (we had to use tennis balls for a kick about) for the same sensible health and safety reasons - proper footballs can hurt small kids - so this is hardly a new thing anyway. Doubtless that is why I never played for England or won a World Cup!

    Also worth turning story around and imagining the outcry from parents if their little 'un had his/her face rearranged by a football flying into it while they were innocently playing.

    Still - we can always blame the foxes!

  2. I can remember, many years ago, getting hit in the face by a stray football as I unsuspectingly walked across the primary school playground, and it wasn't an especially delightful experience, so I can certainly understand the reasons for banning normal-weight footballs. There are plenty of lightweight balls which can easily be used, as the headteacher in this story has requested.

    Nice to see Littlejohn apologise for a mistake for once, though this may unfortunately give the erroneous impression that the rest of his output is, in fact, true. When as he himself has just admitted, he doesn't even bother to check his facts - or, according to Robin's post above, even to properly read the source of his "information".

  3. "...(we had to use tennis balls for a kick about) for the same sensible health and safety reasons - proper footballs can hurt small kids - so this is hardly a new thing anyway. "

    Same for me too. We were never allowed real footballs in the playground, and I've no reason to think my school's policy was unusual.

  4. I bet the child Beckham didn't use grown-up footballs at primary school either.

  5. It makes me wonder if we on the interwebs couldn't concoct a stupid story to see if we can get Richard Littlejohn to believe it and write it in his column.

  6. another similar story exposed as lies.

  7. When can we expect Littlejohn to write a book in which he apologises for every story where he got the facts wrong. I'm sure the book would run to at least 400 pages. Indeed it could be such a weighty book that elf and safety official may deem it too heavy to carry without special training in lifting and carrying.

  8. Did the dreadful man ever apologise for trivialising mass murder in Rwanda? Likes to crack on that he's the elusive 'man in the street' when in reality he's a cold, foreigner-hating weirdo.


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